From Software’s Hidetaka Miyazaki Discusses His Approach To Difficulty –

From Software’s Hidetaka Miyazaki Discusses His Approach To Difficulty

From Software games have garnered a reputation – alongside the rest of the Soulslike subgenre – for delivering difficult, punishing experiences that reward persistence with an unparalleled thrill of victory. The latest release, Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, has attracted attention and, in some sectors of the fan base, controversy for how punishingly difficult it is. The week before the expansion’s release, we sat down with From Software president Hidetaka Miyazaki to talk about the notion of difficulty and how the passionate fan base has surprised him over the years.

The Soulslike genre, particularly From Software games, puts an emphasis on death as part of the gameplay experience. When you fight a challenging enemy, it may feel insurmountable, but by taking a studious and persistent approach, players can recognize patterns, develop skills, and, sometimes, with a little luck, pass the trials to progress through the game. “I think of all of the different ways I want to be killed as a gamer and as a player, and thinking about the difficult curve and certain challenges that we placed in front of other players is something that, as a gamer, I just hoped or wished would exist as an experience,” Miyazaki says.

The difficulty and the unknown build a certain level of tension, contributing to a feeling of dread that some players can’t get enough of. Not knowing what’s around the corner, then the feeling of seeing something you couldn’t imagine in your wildest nightmares provides the level of surprise that From Software hopes to achieve with each passing encounter. To achieve this, Miyazaki takes on much of the level-design responsibilities to ensure that players feel that tension in appropriate ways.

“The entire genre from Demon’s Souls all the way to Elden Ring – the so-called From Software Soulslikes games – I have always taken a very heavy involvement in stage design and level design because I want to create those exact experiences,” Miyazaki says. “As a player walks through this world, I know that they have a very fragmented understanding of the lore, the surroundings, the type of monsters, whereas I don’t. So, the map and level design are supposed to serve as this guide in a way to help players pick up more information and piece together what they think that world is. That is the reason why I level design myself: to make sure that those moments aren’t lost. And yes, it’s a very time-consuming process, but [fans recognizing the level design intent] makes it worthwhile.”

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But Miyazaki knows that many of the games he creates are inherently difficult, but the dedicated players of the genre always seem to rise to the challenge. “There is certainly a lot of surprise, especially when watching content from really, really good players,” he says. “We design certain experiences with the intent of, ‘Oh man, I’m sure they’re going to have a tough time with this,’ but somehow, these players are able to overcome all the obstacles with their skill. With regards to difficulty, I know we get a lot of credit for saying, ‘Yeah, our games are difficult,’ but it’s not a matter of simply cranking up the difficulty. It’s doing so fairly.”

“When players are killed, and they can understand why they were killed in an instance, and it feels justified – ‘Okay, yeah, that makes sense’ – that’s the game design we’re trying to achieve,” Miyazaki continues. “I know a lot of players out there are probably going to disagree: ‘What are you talking about?! This game doesn’t make sense! What the heck!’ But we try to make sure that there is a learning curve and a feedback loop that the players are able to extract from that they can then bring into the next attempt. We believe in difficult games, but not games that are unjustly or unfairly so. But, of course, there’s still room for improvement on our side, as well.” 

With Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree available now (read our review here), the Soulslike and From Software community is back to debating the merits of the developer’s difficulty. But regardless of the debate, history has shown that players will eventually adapt to this new level of challenge and defeat the seemingly undefeatable. From Software has shown an unprecedented level of mastery in understanding how to create content for its community, so while some players may currently feel like Shadow of the Erdtree is too challenging, it will be interesting to observe how that sentiment swings once those same players get more time with the expansion under their belts.

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